A true hero of Vietnam War farewelled

The man whose company held back a reinforced North Vietnamese regiment at Long Tan, before fighting for his soldiers to be recognised, has died.

CAPTIONMajor Harry Smith in Saigon, Vietnam, August 1966. Story by Warrant Officer Class Two Max Bree. Photos courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith, the national serviceman turned career soldier, died on August 20 at the Sunshine Coast aged 90, two days after the battle’s 57th anniversary.

After serving during the Malayan Emergency, Lieutenant Colonel (then Major) Smith rose to prominence in Vietnam as Officer Commanding of Delta Company, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, during the Battle of Long Tan.

Lieutenant Colonel Smith’s company was patrolling a rubber plantation when it ran into a much larger enemy force advancing towards the Australian base at Nui Dat on August 18, 1966.

In an article published in the Australian War Memorial’s Wartime magazine in 2006, Lieutenant Colonel Smith said: “Almost continuous VC tracer rounds lit up the gloom as they raced past us like supersonic fireflies”.

“The heavy rain turned the earth into the mud we lay in.

“White latex oozed from bullet holes in rubber trees. VC snipers went up trees, to be shot or blown down.”

During the battle, Delta Company held off numerous enemy attack waves thanks to tenacious fighting and artillery support.

“The volume and noise of all the artillery and small arms fire was horrendous – deafening – but, in hindsight, wonderful music,” Lieutenant Colonel Smith said.

The enemy got so close to Delta Company’s position, Lieutenant Colonel Smith ordered his famous fire-support request: “Drop 50. Danger Close. Fire for effect”.

Headquarters refused until Lieutenant Colonel Smith grabbed the radio handset from his signalman and shouted, “give us the f—— guns where we want them or you will lose the bloody lot of us”.

Despite being resupplied with ammo dropped from Royal Australian Air Force helicopters, Delta Company was on the verge of being overrun until armoured personnel carriers arrived with reinforcements and broke up the enemy massing for a final attack.

“All firing ceased as though the tap was turned off,” Lieutenant Colonel Smith said.

He later recalled his men were too busy doing what they needed to repel the onslaughts that fear of what could have been only sank in when the battle ended.

“Outnumbered, we just got on with what we had trained for – killing the enemy – to survive,” Lieutenant Colonel Smith said.

“The dedication of my men to helping and giving covering fire to their mates and assisting the wounded was outstanding.”

Delta Company lost 18 soldiers killed and 24 wounded.

CAPTIONWarrant Officar Class Two Jack Kirby and Major Harry Smith, front right, test-firing an SG-43 Goryunov heavy machine gun captured at the Battle of Long Tan.

Writing later, Lieutenant Colonel Smith said Australians buried 245 enemy and found other graves along bloodied withdrawal routes.

“Documents indicated their losses were some 800 killed or died from wounds, with around another 1000 wounded,” he said.

After returning from Vietnam, Lieutenant Colonel Smith served overseas and then as the chief instructor at the Parachute Training School. He left the Army in 1976 following a parachuting injury.

Lieutenant Colonel Smith received a Military Cross for his actions at Long Tan, but was angered when few of the decorations he recommended for his men were awarded.

This began a two-decade fight to have the correct medals presented.

In 2008, Lieutenant Colonel Smith’s award was upgraded to a Star of Gallantry and several of his soldiers also received upgrades.

After a 2016 review, the last of his men received the medals Lieutenant Colonel Smith had recommended 50 years earlier.

CAPTIONMajor Harry Smith receiving the ribbon to the Military Cross for Gallantry, January 1967.


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9 thoughts on “A true hero of Vietnam War farewelled

  • 20/09/2023 at 9:25 am
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    Thank you for your service, Harry.

    Reply
  • 18/09/2023 at 10:22 am
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    Vale Hero and true leader!

    Reply
  • 18/09/2023 at 1:32 am
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    Resubmitted for Typo:

    In Respect and Memory for Lt.Col Harry Smith!!
    The Kind of Man that deserves the Victoria Cross! Gallantry In Action and
    Leading by his Outstanding Character and Integrity!
    Determined to get the valorous recognition earned by his men – duly acknowledged, posted and presented despite the animus of the defense syndicate towards enlisted personal!
    Lt.Col Smith fought the good fight and emboldened the positive character traits of all good men who serve selflessly.
    Promote to Full Colonel now!
    Advance Australia Advance!

    Reply
    • 18/09/2023 at 10:44 am
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      In reply to the Flying Kiwi.

      A Victoria Cross for the Rat Catcher?
      Who likely never fired a round that day?
      You should check the qualifying criteria before that howler!

      This and other comments here are exactly the kind I posited in my earlier post regarding the inane pro-forma, off-the-cuff ”prayers and thoughts” remarks trotted out every time some poor bugger who did his job passes on.

      This hyperbolic and gushing praise dishonestly perpetuates the Myths and disinformation of our losses and defeat in the Vietnamese Civil War, and never asks the why and for what over 500 Australians died.

      Everyone here seems very happy to take some Pride in his actions, but where is the Shame of putting him and his Men there?

      Neutrality for Australia.

      YANKEE GO HOME.

      Peace.

      Reply
  • 17/09/2023 at 4:23 pm
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    Michael,
    For the past 9-years I have spent 6-months of the year living in my beachfront apartment in Vung Tau. Much better than the Danddemic Gulag …

    Reply
  • 17/09/2023 at 11:48 am
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    Prayers and condolences for the family, friends and colleagues of Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith (dec). May their memories of him, his heroism and his gallantry be always remembered. Same goes for ALL our past, current and future military personnel who don the uniform in the name of patriotism and freedom for our nation. Their efforts will always be appreciated by most.

    Bryan M.
    Chaplain, Qld

    Reply
  • 10/09/2023 at 10:33 am
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    The above error in listing K.I.A. casualties is really typical of the ”Prayers and Thoughts’ off-the-cuff Bullshit spewed by pogues and civilians.

    The TRUTH is.
    17 (Seventeen) members of D Coy 6 RAR were K.I.A.
    1 (One) member of I A.P.C. SQN was K.I.A.

    Lest we forget.

    Neutrality for Australia.

    DUTY FIRST.

    Reply
  • 09/09/2023 at 9:47 am
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    Vale the Rat Catcher and every other poor bastard involved.

    And for what?

    No Vietnam holiday is complete without a wander through the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Da Nang, filled with friendly locals, vibrant flavours and a unique fusion of history and modern culture.
    Ready to bite into a banh mi and experience this extraordinary country for yourself?
    Book your Vietnam holiday today.

    DUTY FIRST.

    Reply
    • 18/09/2023 at 1:29 am
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      In Respect and Memory for Lt.Col Harry Smith????????
      The Kind of Man that deserves the Victoria Cross! Gallantry In Action and
      Leading by his Outstanding Character and Integrity!
      Determined to get the valorous recognition earned by his men – duly acknowledged, posted and presented despite the animus of the defense syndicate towards enlisted personal!
      Lt.Col Smith fought the good fight and emboldened the positive character traits of all good men who serve selflessly.
      Promote to Full Colonel now!
      Advance Australia Advance!

      Reply

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